Published 25th January
The proven Cheltenham form of MELON again makes him a solid each-way alternative to hot favourite Buveur D’Air in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Willie Mullins’s gelding gave us a great run for our money last year, going down by a neck to the defending champion in one of the finishes of the Festival.
Runner-up in the previous season’s Supreme Novices’, the 7yo is clearly well suited by the way races are run at the meeting - very much at his best held up off a strong pace.
Mullins was adamant afterwards he would improve again this year and considering he didn’t enjoy the clearest of passages that day, he’s entitled to give Nicky Henderson’s star another fright.
A surprise faller in the Punchestown equivalent the following month - he’d completed all previous starts - he was a below-par fourth on his return at Leopardstown over Christmas but was up against race-fit rivals and can be expected to come on a good deal for the run.
Hopefully he’ll take a significant step forward in the upcoming Irish Champion Hurdle, in which he was a disappointing, but excusable fifth last year (seemed to resent the first-time hood, not used subsequently).
The 7yo is clearly well suited by the way races are run at the meeting - very much at his best held up off a strong pace.
Mullins has the clear second favourite in Laurina, last year’s Mares’ Hurdle winner. The ex-French 6yo is unbeaten in five starts for the yard, her latest success coming in a ‘match’ at Sandown this month.
Apart from confirming her wellbeing that race told us little however and she’s questionable value given she’s untested outside mares-only company.
Another stablemate Sharjah won the race in which Melon finished fourth recently but he was hard-fit after six runs in the previous five months and his overall profile doesn’t match that of the selection’s.
Goodish ground appears key to him (trainer has said so) as his form in testing conditions is not as strong, though he was a convincing winner of the Galway Hurdle off a mark of 146 on summer soft.
Buveur D’Air was impressive as usual on his reappearance in the Fighting Fifth and despite the long-odds-on defeat didn’t seriously tarnish his reputation when short-headed, giving 7lb, to speedy stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle round Kempton’s tight, level track. He still sets the benchmark.